Johnson, who led the American League in saves the last two seasons, might be getting too expensive for Baltimore's liking. The right-hander earned $6.5 million in 2013, his second year of arbitration, and is likely looking at a salary slightly north of $10 million next season.
If the O's don't trade Johnson or another expensive, team-controlled player -- like, say, Matt Wieters -- in the next month or so, it could hurt their chances of signing the free-agent targets they have in mind this offseason. For instance, the club has been linked to veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran this month, but not without the caveat that the club needs to clear payroll in order to afford him.
Baltimore has already made it known that they're planning on "shuffling the deck" in the bullpen this winter, so dealing their closer could be the first step towards achieving that goal. The O's relief corps wasn't quite the unstoppable force in 2013 that it was the year before, but it still rated among the league's best, posting a 3.52 ERA in just over 500 innings. All of its main cogs are under team control through at least 2014, so if there are no takers for Johnson, the team could try dangling one or more of its other bullpen arms -- Brian Matusz's name has already popped up as a possibility.
Johnson, 30, posted a 2.94 ERA and converted a league-leading 50 saves over 70⅓ innings this past season, marking the third consecutive year that he's amassed a sub-3.00 earned-run average. Many were concerned heading into the 2013 season that the tall right-hander's rapidly declining strikeout totals in 2011 and 2012 -- down to just 5.4 per nine -- was a sign of bad thing to come, but Johnson put those fears to rest by upping his K rate to more than seven batters per nine.
It is unclear at the moment what kind of player the Orioles would want in return for Johnson, but their interest in Beltran at least points to the possibility that they could be one of the players for Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler, whom Colorado is shopping around for relief help.